CHENNAI: Transitions can be unpleasant, but here is a Chennai-based environment enthusiast who decided to trudge through the difficult road with the hope that the only way out of it is through it, and with the stance that it is for the better. Gayathri Jaikumar pursued her academics with a focus on sustainability and then decided to steer off to make a difference.
During her PhD at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, she realised the subjects she explored were restricted to discussions with a few erudite people who were well-versed in them. She says, “It started to feel like an echo chamber where a few people worked on the same topic and shared what we were doing in conferences. It was just us who were concerned about the topic.” It was then that she consciously chose the path of an entrepreneur.
Through numerous discussions with market experts, learning new skills and upgrading herself, she steeled herself up for the next endeavour, which was launching a start-up in the fashion industry. SwappCycle, launched in August 2023, was the project that resulted from her relentless and indefatigable work and planning.
A personal choice
The choice of working towards the fashion industry stemmed from Gayathri’s personal experiences, minimalism being one among them. She reflects, “I have been a thrifter for the past seven-eight years, and I do not purchase fast fashion whatsoever.” A lot of her choices, she believes, were not just a part of her conviction, but also could be attributed to feasibility and accessibility. Thrift culture was a major part of her lifestyle in Europe, and sustainable fashion choices were available at par with fast fashion, which led to making such choices easier.
SwappCycle is a barter-based marketplace for pre-loved fashion. Gayathri believes that there also comes a sense of responsibility with it to educate people on the benefits of the app as they onboard them. SwappCycle fosters the idea of a cash-free exchange of clothing and decluttering the wardrobe and aims to create a positive impact on the environment. It takes care of the entire swapping process, which provides doorstep pick-up and delivery of the pre-loved items. The usage of the app is quite seamless with its interactive experience. One can upload the image of items they would like to swap, and in return browse through a catalogue full of items, with responses ‘yay’ or ‘nay’.
But with the newness of this kind of platform, there were also many grey areas for customers, which needed to be addressed. The understanding of thrifting and pre-loved fashion in India is still in its nascent stage. In a country that harbours so many myths, superstitions, and stigma, it was hard to set up something like SwappCycle. There are quality checks done before choosing the material for trade. However, she remarks, “I realised that there is a feeling of ickiness attached to pre-loved fashion. People associate reusing clothes with hygiene issues, passing on the aura and energy of another person, and so on.” There are myriad challenges, and nudging people to question their belief system and adapt to something alien to them, she notes is a hurdle.
Despite these roadblocks, Gayathri was resolute in taking what she describes as an uncertain path. She, however, points out a positive prospect amid the series of impediments. Her hope leaned on the millennials and Gen Z who welcomed the idea of thrifting, and for many, it was the novelty of the experience that excited them. She says, “Younger consumers like Gen Z and millennials have had international exposure, and are relatively free from superstitions and myths burdening their consumption choices and decision-making.”
Inclusion is one of SwappCycle’s trademarks. It welcomes every type and size of clothing without judgement, which gives a sense of acceptance and inclusivity to people with diverse dressing styles and body shapes. She discerns that in India, there is a lack of accessibility and visibility for sustainable products, even if it has well-intentional consumers. She notes that with the advent of e-commerce platforms industries, the choices have widened, and contrary to other countries, the culture of the thrift industry is not popular.
With an aim of equal, viable, and visible choice to mindful consumers, she observes that quite often, we are swayed by society in many ways, which undoubtedly is reflected in our choices. Looking at the market trends overall, she says, “One can see that the fast fashion industry is a leading cause of greenhouse emissions, which constitutes a significant part of environmental damage. It is one such industry with which each one has a certain level and forms of engagement. This is a problem close to everyone, because clothes are an integral part of our life, and purchasing clothes is something that we all do five-six times a year on average.”
Gayathri views that clothes are not merely chosen based on the comfort they provide, but also on how they make us feel emotionally. While the definitions and perspectives on clothing are shifting, consumption has also intensified. It’s hard to aggressively and strictly follow a sustainable lifestyle as it could also translate to an expensive way of living. With plenty of options evolving and looming, people cling to the cost-effective products, and it’s almost impossible to convince a majority of the people to shift to environment-friendly choices. Bearing this in mind, she grasps that instead of latching on to a rigid way to discard fast-fashion, she has to choose a middle ground. She says, “SwappCycle will never adopt a tone that is judgmental to the users on the choices they are making, nor would they be looked upon about their choices, but provide a platform to try something new, which might be a new way of consumption for them.”
The app is available on Playstore and App Store. For details, visit www.swappcycle.com. Instagram: @swappcycle